Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Art in the Science

The Glomerulus: Filter of Life

Thirty years ago, sitting in a lecture hall at UT Medical School at Houston (can it be that long ago?) I remember being mesmerized by histology slides projected up on the screen during basic science lectures. Histology is the study of tissues sectioned thinly; a glimpse at the micro-anatomy of our bodies. We laboriously worked our way through all the organ systems of the body in this way; first the normal histology and then the abnormal (histopathology). Although I never remember mentioning this to anyone else, I thought (and still do) that so many of these projections are gorgeous pieces of art. The various staining techniques that offset the microanatomy, the juxtaposition of different cell types, the uniqueness of each image; all strike me as the beauty within.

I remember thinking that if only I could get my hands on some of these slides, I'd have them blown up poster size, framed, and displayed in my home or office. But, in those days the slides were the property of the professor and I let the idea go concluding that I must be the only one seeing the art in the science. I never recall a professor mention (much less discuss) the beauty of the colors, the design, or the mystery. It was only the facts; the micro-anatomy, the pathology, and the practical relevance. So, as a young student, I kept my mouth shut, quietly enjoying the show while taking notes on the scientific significance of the images projected on the screen.

Nowadays, these histology "slides" are available all over the Internet. Not only can one enlarge images, frame, and enjoy them as pieces of art, they also insert easily into documents and morph into screensavers and wallpaper for the computer. Amazing.

I never tire of these images and not surprisingly, my true love is renal histology because it is closest to my heart. Here science blends with art most completely; the grand mystery of the glomerulus, the tubules, the interstitium. This enticing microanatomy has been the backbone of my professional life for several decades and offers up a wealth of imagery, forever inviting me back to a place where awe and wonder exist.

The Renal Tubules: Master Chemists

The Renal Interstitium: Mysterious Glue

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